Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, must without a doubt be one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to. Hanoi is a vibrant city, a place filled with colors, scents, beautiful people and the tastiest food. If you don’t like busy cities, or prefer it clean, you might better stay away. But for those who are willing to take on an adventure, experience city life in Vietnam, love bustling cities, or perhaps are even starting their Vietnam honeymoon here and who won’t back away from a little challenge… Hanoi is the place for you. After visiting Hanoi twice in 2015, and living in the city for a mere two months in 2017 I have put together the ultimate guide to Hanoi, Vietnam, just for you!
Know Before You Go
- You will most likely need a visa. In case you do, you can apply for this often online in case you are flying into the country, or several embassies and travel agencies in bordering countries if you were planning to travel overland.
- Vietnam’s currency is Dong and with 25000 Dong to a Euro, the currency might be a bit confusing. That said, there are no coins, and with the currency looking a lot like each other, be sure not to get confused and overpay.
- Check with your doctor beforehand if you need any vaccinations.
- Water is not drinkable, be sure to either filter it or to buy bottled water.
- Vietnamese traffic is crazy, just stay calm, the bikers are used to the busy streets and people walking everywhere.
- Locals are extremely friendly and almost always willing to help, even if they don’t speak English.
What to See and Do in Hanoi, Vietnam
Try Vietnamese Coffee: Coffee lover or not, Vietnamese coffee is definitely worth a try! I am not a big coffee drinker, but I wouldn’t pass on Vietnamese coffee ever, the taste is just amazing, especially in combination with the condensed milk, which makes it nice and sweet, just the way I like it. My favorites are egg coffee, which we found in a little cafe (Giangg Cafe, 39 Nguyen Huu Huan) in Hanoi and Vietnamese Ice Coffee, which you could buy on any street corner in Ho Chi Minh City.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi: While this was definitely not on my schedule when planning my visit to Vietnam, it was by far one of the most unique experiences I had here. Ho Chi Minh’s wishes were that he was to be cremated and spread over the country so the land could be used for agricultural purposes, but the country chose to embalm his body and to display him in the Mausoleum, build for him, so they could honor their national hero. Ho Chi Minh is one of the few communistic leaders in the world whose body is embalmed and open for the public to visit.
Visit the Hao Lo Prison: The Hao Lo Prison is also nicknamed the Hilton Hotel. The prison was initially build by French Colonists for political prisoners, the conditions of the prison were extremely hard for the prisoners living there and the cells, pictures and graphics will give an interesting representation of this. However, once the Vietnamese war started the prison was used by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners. The conditions under which the U.S. prisoners were completely different. The americans played sports, were allowed to have chickens and even were given a christmas tree, with such it got the name of the Hilton Hotel.
The Old Quarter: The Old Quarter is the heart of Hanoi, filled with busy streets, tons of shops, food stalls, and markets. This is the place to stay in Hanoi if you want to get a good feeling of the city. It might be intense at first, but trust me you’ll get used to it. It is also home to most of the bars, pubs and the night life of Hanoi in general. A perfect backpacker’s neighborhood with all your necessities right around the corner! Make sure to visit the Hoan Kiem Lake when staying in Hanoi, it is the most serene and scenic sight of the Old Quarter.
Museums, Museums and Museums: Hanoi is home to many many museums, perfect for escaping the rainy days, or even the intense heat of the sun during summer. Some of the most well known museums are the National Museum of Vietnamese History, Vietnamese Women’s Museum, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Vietnam Military History Museum. Depending on your interests you might opt to see one or more of them, I was personally most impressed by the National Museum of Vietnamese History and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum!
West Lake: I lived at the West Lake for two months and it became my favorite place in Hanoi. While the Old Quarter is so busy and hectic, only a 10 min scooter drive away you’ll find the serenity of the lake. All around the lake you can find tons of coffee places, restaurants, little parks and even some temples. My favorite things to see: Quan Thanh Temple and Phu Tay Ho. My favorite places to eat/drink: Chops, Indian Palace, Banh Mi 25, Salt & Lime, The Bia Hoi on Quang An and well basically any coffee place on the lake for a vietnamese ice coffee (Ca Phe Sua Da).
Where to Stay in Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi – Central Backpackers Hostel (Old Quarter) – Vietnam, a budget destination, comes with budget hostels too. Central Backpackers Hostel might be one of the most budget hostels I ever stayed at, and I gladly stayed there for 1,5 weeks! First of all: it has a perfect location, right in the old quarter. Second of all, staff is amazingly friendly and always willing to help. Thirdly, it includes breakfast and free beer for an hour every night. Lastly: it has a rooftop bar with good views, and a great atmosphere making it so easy to meet new people.
Hanoi – Vietnam Backpackers Hostel (Downtown) – Looking for a party? Vietnam Backpackers Hostel is the place to be. While a bit more expensive then Central Backpackers Hostel, it is also a bit more cleaner, the hostel is bigger and the bar is a lot bigger. The hostel has a great atmosphere, and although the dorms are small, the beds are comfortable and well equipped with a light and plug each.
How to Get around Hanoi, Vietnam
Grab: Grab is the Southeast Asian form of Uber, and over there cheaper and easier to use. Simply download the app on your phone, insert your number and you’ll be ready to go. Grab still operates with cash, so make sure to keep small cash for these cheap rides. In Vietnam you can even get a GrabBike, where the driver will pick you up on a scooter, supplies you with a helmet and will bring you to your destination! A 15 min bike ride came as cheap as 25000 Dong (roughly €1,-). GrabTaxis are also available, which will roughly be 200,000 to 225,000 to the airport (roughly €8-€9), and are more suitable for groups and longer distances. I have also used Grab in Malaysia and Thailand, and I know it is also widely available in the bigger cities in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Bike: Planning to stay a bit longer, perhaps even to ride a motorbike around the North or all the way to the South? Hanoi is not the easiest place to bike around. It is busy, hectic, and there are a lot on unspoken rules. If you have no experience riding a motorbike, Hanoi, Vietnam is not the best place to start. If you do have some experience, and are interested, riding around the country or the city on a motorbike was one of my favorite things. If you go rent a bike: don’t ever give them your passport for keeping, there are other shops that will allow you to rent one without. If you want to know everything, I have written a complete guide to riding a motorbike in Vietnam. It includes, buying or renting a bike, a checklist for when you actually buy a bike, safety and many more tips from 3+ months of experience riding a bike in Vietnam!
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